Making Deck Access Easy

No matter how many luxuries you build into your deck, you're not likely to use it if you can't see it from the house, if it's difficult to get to, or if its uses aren't similar to those of an adjacent interior room.

In design terms, these factors are called access and compatibility, and they can spell the difference between a deck that enhances your home and one that rarely gets any use.

Visual access

A deck you can see from inside your home -- one with visual access -- extends an invitation to enjoy the space.

To create effective visual access, locate the deck where you can see it through windows or doors, either existing ones or new units you have installed to provide a new view.

You don't need to see the whole deck to want to get out and enjoy it. Often just a glimpse will make a more effective invitation than a complete view.

When landscaping your deck include ways to entice guests outdoors by making the destination attractive. Incorporating accents that you can see from the inside -- carefully placed container gardens, a change in the decking pattern, or a decorative insert in a railing section visible through a window -- will make your deck more enticing. Ideally at least some of the deck should be visible from more than one room, but the most complete view of the deck should be from the room that adjoins it.

When you're considering ways to improve visual access to your deck, remember to look down. Using similar (or the same) flooring materials or similar colors or textures on both the interior floor and decking will visually link the two spaces and make a smooth transition.

Physical access

Physical access refers to the route from inside your home to the deck -- and it should be easy. The path to the deck, even if visual, should be open from the rooms that adjoin it and free of obstructions.

Make a sketch of the existing routes people follow when walking through your home. You may need to make alterations that will ease movement to the deck. For example, adding the deck on the far side of your kitchen may make your cooking area a busy throughway. Moving a door, adding one, or rearranging interior furnishings will often solve such traffic jams.

Plan the entry so you don't have to step too far up or down when you walk onto the deck -- make the deck surface as close as possible to the level of the interior floor.

If the deck has to be significantly lower than the doorway, add a landing or an entry deck so you won't have to step down as you pass through the door. A landing gives you the opportunity to get your bearings as you move from indoors to outdoors. If a landing is out of the question, build steps. Make the steps wider than the doorway to create an sense of spaciousness. Make each tread (the part you step on) at least 12 inches deep and keep the rise (the distance you step up) low so the stairs are easier to go up and down.

Compatibility

You're likely to use your deck more often when the general purpose of both the indoor and outdoor spaces is similar. So the success of your deck may depend on its nearest indoor room.

For example, a small deck for coffee and the morning paper will feel just right outside your bedroom. This would be a poor location, however, for a large party space.

For outdoor dining put the deck close to the kitchen, even if you will have a self-contained outdoor cooking space. Build in storage for the trash so you don't have to transport it back into the house. Establish entertainment areas close to the living room, family room, or dining room, and maximize access with doorways from other rooms where you would entertain guests. Add exterior paths and walkways so guests can get to and from your deck without going through the house.

For private areas look for ways to limit access -- shield your deck behind hedges or fencing. You also can build tall railings with balusters close together.

Improving Access

Improving access is often all it takes to turn an underused deck into a popular destination. If you don't use your current deck as much as you thought you would, it might be because the design has too much (or too little) visual access, or that you can't get to it easily.

For example, if you feel you're on display while meditating on the deck, the site probably allows too much visual access. Look for ways to shield the area by adding a fence, shrubs, or an overhead structure. Areas for private use require limited visual access. Areas for public use can afford to be more open to outside views.

Inconvenient physical access from interior rooms can also reduce the use of your deck. If you feel that getting to your deck from inside is a journey full of obstacles or circuitous, try rearranging the interior furniture. If the deck furnishings are in the middle of a natural pathway, rearrange them, too, and if there's no room to move them around, add a platform deck to expand the space.

Pro Tip:

Make the Right Connections
To avoid traffic jams, make sure the main door to the deck is wide enough to allow easy passage and to offer an inviting view from inside the house. French doors, atrium doors, and sliding doors are especially suitable for connecting the inside and outside.

Take a compatibility inventory of your home. Sketch a floor plan and label the use of each room as active (entertaining, for example) or passive (reading). You may have rooms that warrant both labels, but one type of activity usually predominates. Match up active deck areas with active interior rooms, and passive deck spaces with passive rooms. Deck space for kids' play is better outside a family room, playroom, or den. Deck space for reading will feel more comfortable adjacent to a bedroom or living room.

While you're at it, analyze the way that family members and guests move through your home. Sketch in the windows and doors of the rooms on your inventory and draw arrows that show the usual traffic routes. If there's furniture in the way, rearrange it to open up the view and physical paths to the outdoors.

 

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